July 9, 2012

The Deluge

The last of the cherries didn't stand a chance.

On Thursday evening the first of a series of storms arrived, bringing sheets of rain drenching the ground and pelting everything in sight with relentless force. With thunder like gunfire and lightening cracking down just a few seconds apart, all we could do was gaze out the windows in amazement. We watched the banks of the river rapidly recede and a new river form itself in the dip of the northern pasture. Its natural path was straight down our driveway onto the road and over the opposite neighbour's garden into the stream, now a fiercely roaring river.

Just as suddenly, the storm passed and the air hung fresh and calm whilst the two rivers continued to flow. We retrieved some stray belongings and rectified what damage we could before heading for bed, expecting the worst to be over.

At about midnight Patrick came racing upstairs to announce that we absolutely had to get up NOW. Reaching the bottom of the stairs we climbed into wellies and found ourselves wading through water, into the middle room and then the hall. There we simply stared, totally dumbstruck.

Standing in over two feet of water we could hear the sound of gurgling drains in reverse, bursting upwards into the room carrying objects floating between islands of the sofa, bed, cabinet, anything too heavy to move. Worst of all was the smell.

The whole scene became like a slow motion nightmare as the reality of the situation gradually dawned on us: the saturated ground could take no more so the torrents rushing down from the hillside had found a new path, directly along the edge of the main house. There the cesspit had filled beyond capacity. The only course for the excess water to take was up into the house by way of the original drainage built in for when animals were kept in the barn.

Sandbags and rocks were jammed into the drainage holes as best we could, and with buckets and shovels we mechanically began to attempt to reduce the level of the water. It felt like ages before the pressure on the drains finally started to give way, and the direction of the tide began to turn.

The following day the sun came out as usual, sweltering hot, beautiful and calm. Everything felt pretty normal, albeit for the flattened grass and water-logged pumpkin patch. The whole day was spent clearing the ground floor of all objects, piling up laundry and stacking things safely in the old metal workshop, away from the path of the flood.

Neighbours gathered on the road to clear rubble and share stories, commenting that this was pretty bad, but not nearly as bad as 2010. Everybody worked with full power to restore the area to good working order, believing the worst to be over.

Then the next storm arrived, earlier this time, and with a force far greater than the first, making mockery of our sandbag barriers and flushing out the rocks of the driveway as if pebbles on a beach.

Another day of restoring damaged areas and reinforcing barriers with slightly less optimism than before, and along came another storm.

We dragged ourselves back out to the drive for the third round. No road vehicle could reach our farm as the last three metres of track were now a deep pond with sheer sides where the rubble had simply broken away.

There is no doubt now that this is truly the worst flooding the area has ever experienced. It has been disheartening to watch, yet somehow quite magnificent. The solidarity amongst the folk of the neighbourhood has been incredible to observe and experience. Each stoically supporting one another, patiently accepting the inevitable, as the sheer force of nature has made blatantly obvious the errors committed by poor planning, over-zealous construction and misguided agricultural practice.

It has also cleansed our farm in a way we could never have anticipated. By the third round the water in the hall came up much cleaner and the process of flushing it out has brought the original colour back to the bricks in the floor. It feels as though the very bowels of the farm have been flushed through, revealing aspects we had not yet discovered and demonstrating the lie of the land in all its' visceral glory, showing us (amongst other things) exactly where not to plant pumpkins!

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com

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